“Sri Lanka music and songs” more popularly known as the music of Sinhala, originated in the culture of the country getting its influence from the three resources, –the practices of the religion of Buddhism, the Portuguese colonization consequences, along with the commercial as well as the influence of the history of the Indian culture, more exclusively the influence of Bollywood cinemas.
The Portuguese colonizers entered Sri Lanka almost centuries after Buddhism. In the mid fourteen hundreds the Portuguese came along with their ukuleles, guitars, and the cantiga ballads. Along came another group from Africa – referred popularly as “kaffrinhas”. They brought a different style of music to enrich Sri Lanka, called the “baila”.
These two free flow genres of music went a long way to contribute to the musical tradition of the country in a diverse way, even affecting the modern Sinhala music the most.
Folk music is one of the most ancient and originals of Sinhala music. There are different sets of the folk poems, commonly known as “Kavi”, that are distinctive and present in the various castes like the cart drivers, farmers, miners, and so on.
The culture of “Kavi” is still eminent among the different folk rituals. Although such rituals are now rarely practiced, but amongst the folk bands or musicians the songs still survive.
The “Virindu” is another of the customary Sinhala folk style, still prevalent in “Sri Lanka music and songs”. The style involves on e of the improvised poems that are sung to a certain beaten melody that is a style of “rabana”. In yesteryears there used to be contests wherein two singers of the Virindu style would have a singing duel with verse.
The initial stars of the Sinhala recorded music flowed from theaters at that time when the “kolam”, “nadagam”, or “sokari” –the conventional open-air drama was in the peak of its popularity. In the early nineteen hundred and three an album, entitled as “Nurthi” – was produced as the first ever recorded album to emerge from Sri Lanka via the famous “Radio Ceylon” –the station that ruled for long in a monopoly business all over the Sri Lanka airwaves. This radio station used to be the primary broadcaster of the Sinhala airwave, and was established in the year nineteen twenty five. This was the time when Vernon Corea took the opportunity of introducing the Sinhalese music in the Radio Ceylon’s English services as well to get greater exposure in the English services of the radio station.
With the awakening of Indian and western music explosion, singer and composer “Ananda Samarakoon” came forward to help and initiate with the training he received from Kavi-guru Ravindranath Tagore’s school of music at Shantiniketan. This man developed a unique tradition of Sinhalese music in the year nineteen hundred and thirty nine. Some of his works like the “Ennada Manike”, “Punchi Suda”, and most remarkably the famous “Namo Namo Maatha” –this one got adapted to be the National anthem of Sinhala, made enriching impact on “Sri Lanka music and songs”. These works of “Ananda Samarakoon” established a new genre of music called the “sarala gee genre”.
Another of the significant Sinhala artists was the “Devar Surya Sena” emerged with western education as his background had the pivotal role to popularize the folk songs of Sinhala to the elite class of English people that was earlier a bore for the higher class.
“Amardeva” was with an educational background from Shantiniketan just like “Samakaroon”, took over the same genre –“Sarala Gee” a tradition that was then mixed by him with forms of raga. This genre got popularized in Sri Lanka, thanks to Radio Ceylon, through the “Sarala Gee” programs that got broadcasted regularly. A lot of musicians like that of “Rohana Weerasinghe”, “Victor Rathnayake”, “Gunadasa Kapuge”, “Sanath Nandasiri”, “Edward Jayakody”, and “Sunil Edirisinghe” followed his footsteps.
“Makulolouwa” firmly believed that the music of Sinhalese should ideally follow the type of the folk music that was called “Jana Gee”. This musician traveled all over Sinhala in search of different folk songs that he gathered in order to create an unique style of genre. A lot of musicians later like “Rohana Beddage”, and “Lionel Ranwala” had great contributions in the development of the “Jana Gee” style.
Sunil Shantha for example took a complete western approach in Sinahalese music; -this was inspired by the Church music.
Lot of such musicians over the generations introduced a variety of their styles and genres from different works of life in enriching what we know today as “Sri Lanka music and songs”.